“Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the Lord. Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts. They do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in his paths” (Psalm 119:1-3, NLT).
I recently read the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. Bonhoeffer was a German pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, and the key founding member of the Confessing Church in Germany during the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich in Germany prior to and during World War II. Bonhoeffer, who wrote the Christian classic, The Cost of Discipleship, was imprisoned and eventually executed by the Nazis at the age of thirty-nine for his Christian faith and participation in a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler.
The detailed biography was an interesting and inspirational read but left me with some disturbing theological questions concerning the tension between good and evil in this present world. Although Metaxas probably didn’t intend to agitate his readers when writing the biography, the story of Bonhoeffer’s brief life and tragic death certainly raised some concerns about God’s justice for me!
“All those who were listed of the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron and the chiefs of Israel listed, by their clans and their fathers’ houses, from thirty years old up to fifty years old, everyone who could come to do the service of ministry and the service of bearing burdens in the tent of meeting, those listed were 8,580. According to the commandment of the Lord through Moses they were listed, each one with his task of serving or carrying. Thus they were listed by him, as the Lord commanded Moses” (Numbers 4:46-49, ESV).
The Book of Numbers begins at Mount Sinai, where the Israelites have received their laws and covenant from God. Now God has taken up residence among them in the Tabernacle that resides in the middle of their encampment. As they sojourn through the wilderness to take possession of the Promised Land, it will be a major logistical undertaking to mobilize, move and secure the Tabernacle at each layover along their journey.
“Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’ When he saw them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.’” (Luke 17:1-19, NIV).
When I get to the end of this story from the life of Jesus, I ask myself, “Is that it? Is that all there is to the story?”
There’s got to be more to this story!
Surely, there has to be some some memorable maxim, some profound proposition, some theological theorem underlying this story?
I suppose that sometimes a “thank-you Jesus” is just a “thank-you Jesus.” Maybe, there’s no mystical meaning to the story intended.
Yet, upon closer scrutiny you will find that there is an uncomplicated but notable underlying message in this story. A simple “thank-you Jesus” spoken by a Samaritan leprosy survivor can have profound theological and psychological implications.
“We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich, as having nothing, yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:8-10, ESV).
Paradox is used to reframe a reality that is outside of normal perceptions. When used in the Bible, paradox helps us perceive an alternative universe–the Kingdom of God–where God rules and reigns.
The normal Christian life is a great paradox. It’s life, but it’s death. It’s sorrow, yet joyful. It’s deficiency and sufficiency.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you” (2 Corinthians 4:7-12, ESV).
The “treasure in jars of clay” verse (2 Corinthians 4:7) is probably in the top three of my favorite Bible verses!
The treasure spoken of refers to “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (vs 6). And God gives this knowledge of Himself–this treasure, revealed in Christ Jesus, to human beings to do with as they please–accept it or reject it.
In these verses the Apostle Paul describes what life is like for those who possess this treasure. He describes what we might call The Normal Christian life–affliction, bewilderment, persecution, adversity AND eternal life.
This meditation was originally posted on 9/3/2013.
“For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silvanus and Timothy—did not become ‘Yes and no’; on the contrary, a final ‘Yes’ has come in Him. For every one of God’s promises is ‘Yes’ in Him. Therefore, the ‘Amen’ is also spoken through Him by us for God’s glory. Now it is God who strengthens us, with you, in Christ and has anointed us. He has also sealed us and given us the Spirit as a down payment in our hearts” (2 Corinthians 1:19-22, HCSB).
Do you ever get down and depressed because you feel like you’ve got so much to handle and you just can’t do it all? And then you get all locked up inside and you don’t do anything. I call it “gridlock of the soul.” Why even try, you wonder.
It seems like life is saying “No!” to you, “No you can’t. No you can’t. No, no, no!”
When life keeps telling you “No,” there is something you can do to escape soul gridlock.
Open your Bible to 2 Corinthians 1:19-22 and read, re-read, and read these verses again until you realize that when life seems to be telling you “No,” God is telling you “Yes!”
And not just “Yes,” but an emphatic “Yes,” God’s big “YES!”
“And he said to him, ‘If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?’ And the Lord said to Moses, ‘This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name'” (Exodus 33:15-17, ESV).
The backstory of these verses is that while Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments and other instructions from God, at the base of the mountain the Israelites had fashioned a golden calf to worship as their god, thinking Moses had abandoned them.
When Moses came down from the mountain he was so enraged that he threw down the Ten Commandment tablets and smashed them. Futhermore, God was ready to rid Himself of the Israelites. He told Moses to go ahead and lead the people to the promised land but He would no longer accompany them with His presence. Instead, God would send an angel to lead Moses and the Israelites into the land.
Moses was not satisfied with that plan and in these verses Moses implored God not to abandon His people. Moses begged God to reconsider and to go with him and the people of Israel to the promised land.
Moses declares that it is only God’s abiding presence with the Israelites that makes them distinct from all other people on the earth!